The Virginia Symphony presented THE BEST OF WAGNER’S RING CYCLE, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, narrated by bass-baritone Jake Gardner. ” Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” from Das Rheingold, “Ride of the Valkyries” and “Wotan’s farewell & Magic Fire Music” from Die Walkure, “Forest Murmurs’ from Siegfried, and “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and “Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music Brunnhilde’s Immolation” from Gotterdammerung formed sort of a manageable symphonic poem of Wagner’s four-day, sixteen-hour epic gesamtkunstwerk.

No artist divided the art world as did Richard Wagner. (I was first introduced to Wagner in the 1960s by the dear Professor Richard Mead of the University of Virginia’s Music Department in a course simply called “Opera”. It would eventually change my life.) The division Wagner caused remains today. The empty seats in Chrysler Hall provided a loud testimony to the fact.

The reason:

As Jan Swafford points out in his new book Language of the Spirit,

There was corruption at the core of Wagner’s personality, which rose from and contributed to a corruption in his culture. [It] is something that will forever be debated and never resolved. In any case, Wagner will not be forgotten, for well and for ill”

One reason is that he provides unequaled opportunities for other, healthier artists to shine in their own art. Singers, musicians, conductors, stage directors, scenic designers, costume designers, all relish the opportunity to work on something by the madman Richard Wagner.

That was certainly the case on Saturday evening. Ms. Falletta demonstrated superior skill in understanding Wagner’s musical challenges and in marshalling her mightily talented instrumentalists to the challenge. The music was thrilling and seemed, unfortunately, over in a flash.

And Wagner stimulates fascinating critical discussions. Both David Goldman and Roger Scruton have weighed in on the philosophical implications of Wagner’s abandonment of teleologically designed music. The ramifications, when applied to culture, are horrifying.

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